STANFORD, Calif. — Without fail, Bonnie and Karlie Samuelson take the court together for warmups, usually among the first ones out to shoot some 90 minutes before tipoff. Then, always, they walk back to the locker room side by side.
They did it once and stuck to the winning routine.
“We did it on the first game and then it was like, ‘Oh, tradition,'” Karlie said.
Stanford’s new sister tandem is helping to carry the load for the No. 15th Cardinal, who are finding their way without an All-American Ogwumike sister — Nneka and Chiney (Ogumike) were each No. 1 overall picks in the WNBA draft — for the first time in six years. Chiney Ogwumike led Stanford to the Final Four for the sixth time in seven years last season.
The Samuelsons are now in the starting lineup together, too, something they didn’t necessarily see coming.
Bonnie, a senior forward, started her fourth game in Monday night’s 55-44 victory against Utah, an opportunity she wasn’t sure she would get during her career as she vowed to contribute any way she could off the bench while waiting her turn.
“It’s really fun. The last time we started together was high school, so it’s kind of a throwback,” Bonnie said. “I’m so used to coming off the bench, so I get really confused. I miss all our bench huddles we do before the game. Now it’s like the other side of the coin and I get to see how it is. It’s awesome.”
If they could have their way, younger sister Katie Lou would follow them to the Bay Area and Stanford, but she is headed to rival Connecticut instead, perhaps the best of the three.
Karlie considered joining the Huskies herself. A major draw to Stanford was playing with her big sister for Hall of Fame coach Tara VanDerveer.
“They were my second choice,” she said. “Everything about Stanford I love but it’s definitely great playing with Bonnie.”
The Samuelsons do just about everything together, spending most of their time off the court hanging out at Bonnie’s apartment on campus. Bonnie is studying human biology and is considering medical school once she’s done playing, though she might try to continue her career overseas. Karlie is considering following suit with human biology.
“Tara always makes a point that we’re a sisterhood,” assistant coach Kate Paye said. “Our first sisters were Nneka and Chiney, now Bonnie and Karlie. They are true living examples of what it is to be a sister.”
In just her sixth career start and first this season, Bonnie Samuelson scored a career-high 30 points in a Dec. 22 win against UC Davis, earning Pac-12 Player of the Week honors.
That made her the first player who wasn’t an Ogwumike with a 30-point performance in nearly four years, since Jeanette Pohlen scored 31 against UConn on Dec. 30, 2010.
While they will never have the Ogwumike star power, the Samuelsons are committed to doing what they can to give Bonnie and the seniors another special NCAA tournament run come March.
It’s a work in progress for VanDerveer’s new-look team, which stunned two-time defending NCAA champion Connecticut in overtime at home on Nov. 17 but lost two games at Chattanooga and Tennessee last month. The Cardinal (10-4, 2-0 Pac-12) are riding a four-game winning streak as they chase their 15th straight regular-season conference title.
“They are not a dominant force, though they could be,” Utah coach Anthony Levrets said of Stanford after Monday’s loss at Maples Pavilion. “The Ogwumikes changed what they were the past six years and they are not that team right now.”
VanDerveer, in her 29th season at Stanford, regularly refers to her team as a sisterhood anyway — and the Cardinal certainly have had their real examples in Nneka and Chiney and now the Samuelsons.
These two spent much of their childhood shooting baskets with their father in Huntington Beach, California. Jon Samuelson played college basketball at Cal State Fullerton and professionally in Europe, while their mom played her own version of the sport for England’s national netball team.
They enjoy being the latest example of how a close-knit unit off the court can lead to success on it.
In fact, Karlie, a sophomore, doesn’t want the season to go too quickly. She has a tough time thinking about next season without Bonnie.
“I’m pretty sad about her leaving next year,” she said. “We’re best friends.”